Luxury resort operator Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN) will report fourth-quarter and end-of-year financial results on Thursday, Sept. 27. Let's scale the heights of Colorado's premier destination.

What analysts say:

  • Buy, sell, or waffle? Luxury is in, as five of the six analysts covering the Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation rate it a buy. One says hold.
  • Revenues. Revenues are expected to fall 24%, to $93.7 million, for the quarter, but that's no surprise: Vail's resorts are winter, not summer, destination spots.
  • Earnings. Losses, as well, are expected to increase this quarter to $0.83 per share.

What management says:
Management was upbeat in its third-quarter conference call and raised full-year guidance for the resort operator. That's despite the fact that the fourth quarter will be weaker than usual, or compared to last year at least, because of several one-time events. These include higher than normal expenses on account of construction, and lower than previous revenues, partly because of a divestiture of a technology partner back in April. Still, the third quarter was quite strong and boosted results for the entire fiscal year.

What management does:
As a luxury resort operator, Vail differs from Marriott (NYSE:MAR) or Starwood (NYSE:HOT) because the latter two have more hotels than resorts. It also enjoys amenities not available to entertainment resorts like those run by Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) or Harrah's (NYSE:HET), which focus on the gambling aspects of staying with them. Vail, as a luxury ski lodge, is able to leverage its ticket sales into a profitable business. In fact, 2007-2008 season pre-sales for season passes rose 39% in terms of units and 54% in terms of sales dollars. Below is a table showing the margins for Vail Resorts.

Margin

04/06

07/06

10/06

01/07

04/07

Gross

23.9%

23.4%

22.9%

23.5%

23.9%

Operating

14.7%

13.5%

13.1%

14.4%

15.1%

Net

4.9%

5.5%

5.1%

5.8%

6.7%

All data courtesy of Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data reflects trailing-12-month performance for the quarters ended in the named months.

One Fool says:
Despite better-than-average results, the fourth quarter may end up having the resort operator report some disappointing numbers, even if this is the off-season. Last month, Vail filed amended financial statements with the SEC that will end up making its prodigious cash flow-generating capabilities seem a lot lumpier than they had previously. While it sports a slight discount to rivals, it still doesn't present a bargain.

With its new Arrabelle on schedule to open around the Christmas-New Year's holidays, it provides a new source of revenues at a resort that has been oversubscribed for some time. Vail Resorts is an investment that you should hold onto if it already resides in your portfolio, but if you're looking to make an entry, there may be better opportunities, some of which might present themselves after the earnings report.

Related Foolishness:

Vail Resorts has earned a four-star rating from the 65,000-strong investor intelligence community at Motley Fool CAPS. You can add your voice to the new stock-rating service by joining today. It's free!

Vail Resorts is a recommendation of Motley Fool Hidden Gems. You can ride the lift with the service that's beating the market by 38 percentage points by hanging onto a 30-day risk free trial subscription.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.